Mad Scientist?

You’ve seen the old black and white movies featuring the mad scientist with a maniacal gleam in his eyes, hunched over a laboratory table, mixing smoking chemicals. That’s a little how I feel when I’m trying out new art materials. Just swap out the lab coat, beakers and smoking chemicals for new paints, pastels and supports, keep the maniacal gleam, and there I am. Lately I have been experimenting with different pastel papers. Experimenting can be a costly practice, so I tend to take it slow and buy new materials a little at a time. I will say though that the knowledge gained is a worthy pay off.
The surface I have the most experience with is a gray velour paper. I bought a giant box of it years ago so I don’t even know who makes it. Since then I tried ordering velour paper on line and just wasn’t very happy with it. So, I recommend that you buy your first sheet in person if you can. That way you can feel the density of the velour and weight of the paper. I became very comfortable with a nice, heavy, toothy version of this paper. It’s forgiving and will take multiple layers, blending with ease. So if you like to blend with your fingers this won’t tear the hide off of your finger tips. It gives a soft almost dreamy quality to the finished product. I usually tap it good to shake off the excess and give it a light spray with a fixative when I’m done. The biggest negative of this paper is that it is prone to scarring.
When I noticed that my giant box of gray velour was dwindling, I decided I’d better start experimenting with something readily available and affordable. That’s when I bought a pad of assorted Canson Mi-Teintes. The assortment refers to an assortment of colors, which I like. It allows me to use complimentary background colors for my paintings. Each sheet has a smooth side and a toothy side. I’ve tried both, and for a small painting I think I prefer the smooth side. It grips the pastels adequately and blends nicely. I find that I have to plan more carefully because it can’t handle too many layers. It’s good for quick sketching. I enjoyed using it for figure studies, but I don’t like it well enough to use it for a painting I intend to sell.
The last paper I tried is a sanded paper made by Art Spectrum. The sanded paper, as you might imagine has plenty of tooth and really grabs and holds onto the pastels. It is a little pricey, as is the velour paper but you can find different prices on line. When I tapped the paper to let fall the excess pastel I was pleasantly surprised to see very little fall out. I felt that I was able to achieve a more painterly effect with this paper than either of the other types. I like it as well or better than the velour and each sheet seems very consistent with no flaws or scarring. Next I plan to try different brands of sanded papers and maybe an ampersand board to see how they compare.
So it’s back to the drawing board for me, to continue experimenting and creating. Do you have a favorite pastel paper or board? Or maybe you prefer to prepare your own surface. Tell me about it. I’d like to include it in my next “lab” day. If you would like to learn more about pastel painting or beginning drawing you can join me in Tuscany in September. Diana Scimone and I are taking 2 weekends to teach writing a book and drawing in beautiful Barga, Italy at Casa Cordati. You can read more in the last post.

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